What is Zoom Fatigue?
Zoom currently holds more than 3.3 trillion annual meetings. You’ve probably been in a dozen of these. The Covid-19 pandemic skyrocketed the rise of this video chat platform. Since no one could go to the office or meet their loved ones, this platform offered the perfect virtual space.
But Zoom hasn’t been a blessing without a curse.
Stanford researchers have put a mighty red flag on this video chat platform. According to their research, Zoom calls are tiring out many people.
The Research Behind It
In the first peer-reviewed article, Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), reported that long video chats carry consequences that lead to the sensation often referred to as “Zoom fatigue.”
But this research is not purposed to vilify the massive video chat platform. Bailenson reports that he uses tools like Zoom daily.
The research goal was to identify ways in which the interface could be changed to make the video conferences less tiring and how consumers and organizations can leverage the current features to reduce fatigue.
So, what are these that make you feel so exhausted?
These are the most common causes of “Zoom fatigue.”
Highly Intense Close-Up Eye Contact
The size of the faces we see on video chat screens, and the amount of eye contact we engage in are unnatural. In a regular meeting, you would look at the speaker, take notes, or look elsewhere.
However, Zoom calls require you to look at everyone every time. The system is also built such that a listener can be nonverbally treated as a speaker. Thus, even if you don’t speak in the meeting, everyone else is still staring at you.
That feature dramatically increases the amount of eye contact. One of the biggest phobias in our society is the social anxiety for public speaking. With everybody staring at you in a Zoom meeting, it can be a very stressful experience.
During in-person conversations or audio-phone chats, we have the flexibility to walk and move around. However, videoconferencing restricts us to a fixed spot. That is influenced by the need to appear focused and professional and the limited field of view for most cameras.
This limited movement is not natural. Several research suggests that we think better the more we move around. Thus, videoconferencing imposes a cognitive limit on most participants apart from increasing stress.
Our Brain Has to Work Harder
In-person conversations allow us to read people’s facial expressions and decode tones quite easily. Videoconferencing, on the other hand, makes this a challenging ordeal. Therefore, your brain has to work harder to decode the tone of the speaker and their facial expressions.
That is why many participants find it harder to have conversations over Zoom than in real life.
Moreover, you have to create the illusion of eye contact and mentally process verbal communication. Common delays for verbal responses over the virtual connections also strain your ability to interpret the words of whoever you’re talking to over video chat.
Interference with the Home Life
Since you’re working from home, bits of your home life can show up during meetings. It can be your toddler walking up to you or someone in the house unintentionally barging into your workspace while you’re in a meeting.
These interruptions can often feel embarrassing or overwhelming. You have to manage those around you while sticking to the agenda of the meeting and sweeping the embarrassment under the rag.
This adds a new layer of challenge to our work-life balance, which is already hard in the usual office setup.
Seeing Yourself During Video Chats Is Fatiguing
We don’t walk around with a mirror, constantly checking how we look as we talk to people, offer feedback, and make decisions. But that is what videoconferencing presents to us.
In Zoom meetings, you’re shown a small square of what you look like during the chat. Essentially, you end up viewing yourself in a mirror for the entire meeting.
Research has linked seeing a reflection of yourself to being more critical about yourself. With the current popularity of videoconferencing, you have to stare at yourself several hours a day. This increases stress and anxiety, which can have a negative emotional impact.
How to deal with it
“Zooming,” as it's popularly known, is not going away anytime soon. But there are things you can do to handle better the fatigue you’re getting from it.
Tap Out When You Need To
You don’t have to attend all meetings available on Zoom. Ensure you get enough rest before you sit down for the ones you’re not allowed to miss. For the rest, you can snooze and watch the recording later.
Also, find polite ways to request a break if the Zoom call is getting too lengthy. A simple “I’m going to turn off my video because it’ll make it easier for me to listen” will suffice. Also, feel comfortable asking to switch off your video when switching to a different room.
Schedule Fun Zoom Meetings
The mental fatigue associated with most zoom meetings also comes from the expectation of professionalism since most Zoom calls are work-oriented. You have to force a smile, tidy your background, or strain hearing someone deal with internet connectivity issues.
Start, therefore, doing fun things over Zoom. Watch a movie with your best friend, catch up with family, or learn a new craft. This will help weaken the negative association with Zoom.
Find a Format That Works for You
If you control your scheduling, figure out what times work best for you and your mental health.
You can stack all mandatory Zoom meetings at the beginning of the week. You can alternatively spread them out across the week, which will make you feel less overloaded.
You can also create boundaries around your work calendar. You can strictly start your Zoom meetings afternoon or end all Zoom meetings by mid-week.
Strive to Create A Better Virtual-Life Balance
Zoom meetings don’t have to be stressful. Work on balancing your real-world life with the virtual meetings and ensure you communicate effectively in each meeting to make them more rewarding.